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January 25th, 2017

The Ungainly Brent Goose

A few days ago, taking my daily walk in Kilbogget  Park just across the road from our flat in Cabinteely,  south Co. Dublin, I was intrigued to come across a flock of more than 100 dark geese cropping the grass near a rugby pitch. I couldn’t identify the variety till I got home and did a little research. With small white patches on their throats, they must have been Brent geese.

They allowed me to get within about 15-20 yards, but when I approached closer each one turned its back and began shuffling away in the opposite direction. T.A. Coward, whose The Birds of the British Isles and Their Eggs (Warne, 1920) has been my ornithological mainstay for the past 70 years, describes  Brent geese as “walking gracefully ”. I can’t agree with him: these moved more like old ladies  badly in need of hip replacements.

Their voices are not particularly inspiring, either. When she heard this clip from the other end of the flat, Stramentaria called out, “What’s that you’re listening to? The Hitler Youth?”

These shots were of geese on water, so how come the ones I saw were cropping grass in the park? With a little more research, I discovered via the BBC that the Brent goose’s main diet consists of a kind of seaweed called eel grass, which gives them all the vitamins, etc. that they need. But around now the supply of eel grass runs out, so they have to move a bit inland and survive on ordinary grass instead, even though it’s not nearly as nutritious. Quite soon they will fly to their summer grounds in northern Canada; but the younger ones, if they make it,  will be so exhausted by the long flight and the previous inadequate diet that  they won’t be able to breed until next year.


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